Podcast 30, Lauren Pears, Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium

This week, Mat talks to Lauren Pears about the ups and downs of running London's most popular cat cafe.

19 February 2020

Show notes

Lauren Pears, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium

Lauren runs a hugely popular cat cafe based in Bethnal Green / Shoreditch. They currently have 16 cats which they eventually re-home – Lauren carefully inspects all homes to make sure they’re suitable.

Starting out

  • Lady Dinah’s has been running for around six years and for the first two years it was quite stressful
  • When starting out, Lauren faced a lot of challenges. One of these was a disconnect between herself and investors
  • Lauren also underestimated the hype – when she opened her booking system in 2013, she received over 20,000 bookings within the first seven days
  • The flip side of this was that people were forgetting about their bookings, and while it was booked out according to the online system, Lauren had an empty cafe
  • No shows are a massive problem, and as a result Lauren now requires customers to purchase their ticket upfront
  • Along with the usual cafe staff, Lady Dinah’s have cat carers who are trained to look after the cats while customers are enjoying their time

Interior design - Alice in Wonderland

  • Lady Dinah’s is named after Alice’s cat in Lewis Carroll’s famous book, ‘Alice in Wonderland’
  • Upstairs, the cafe is themed as the Mad Hatter’s tea room. This features a giant top hat that the cats like to walk around, and rope bridges connected to the walls
  • Downstairs features the Queen of Hearts’ maze and more
  • Lauren learned quickly that cats destroy everything, so anything you build has to be cat-proof
  • Her creative team have helped her build the interior, including turning a structural column into a hand-sculpted tree

Social media

  • Lady Dinah’s have a strong digital following on social media, with over 250,000 followers across various platforms
  • Marketing has been an 'unsolvable problem' for Lauren since she first opened the cafe
  • Lauren has found it hard to get someone who isn’t regularly in the cafe to do marketing for her, so for a long time did it herself
  • In order to free up a little bit of her time she has had to learn to delegate social roles to other members of staff and accept the slight differences in tone of voice that come with that
  • Now, instead of having one voice that is ‘Lady Dinah’s’ she introduces her staff on social media as ultimately they are what make the business run smoothly

Negative customers

  • Lauren has inevitably had to deal with customers who don’t know how to interact with the animals properly
  • She believes it’s essential that as a business owner, you stick up for your staff
  • Negative reviews on Trip Advisor are hard to navigate, and are frustrating when a customer’s account doesn’t align with the truth or is unfair
  • For small businesses, these negative reviews can be really damaging
  • Ultimately, there is a bigger margin for failure as cats are unpredictable – some customers are more understanding than others

Making the leap from video games to cats

  • Before starting Lady Dinah’s, Lauren was working in the game industry
  • After a number of different jobs working on some exciting games, the 2008 economic collapse meant that Australia was no longer a cheap place to develop games
  • Jobs started to dry up and independent developers started to close
  • After a brief break from the game industry, Lauren was drawn back and made the leap to move to London where she worked at Sony Playstation for around two years
  • Her time in the games industry means that she has been able to take on the techy / analytic side of Lady Dinah’s with relative ease
  • These past jobs have developed her skills and equipped her well to run her own business

Quick-fire questions

Which social media platforms do you use?

  • Lady Dinah’s is on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, she found that twitter didn’t really give any return so decided not to pursue it
  • Instagram works well for Lauren because her business is a very visual one

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were first starting out?

  • Don’t try and behave like a boss, the boss’ you’ve already had are the reason you left
  • Be the boss that you want to work for

The big biz whiz quiz

Lauren scored 7/10

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Jamie Maddison has written for a range of publications including Lonely Planet, Geographical, Diplomat, and Hidden Europe.

Article updated on: 25 March 2020

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